John Paul II: Be not afraid Print
By Steven Hayward   
Monday, 11 February 2013

The first non-Italian Pope in 455 years set off alarm bells in the Kremlin the moment he was selected in October 1978. The new Pope’s headline proclamation upon being selected was “Be not afraid!” Be not afraid of what? The indirect meaning was clear.

The uncertainty and worry in ruling Communist circles could be seen in the first moments of John Paul’s selection; while the news spread instantly across Poland by word of mouth, the state-controlled Polish TV and radio network delayed announcing the news for several hours while the ruling Communist Party worked out its position. A hastily prepared CIA analysis concluded with typical understatement of the obvious that a Polish Pope “will undoubtedly prove extremely worrisome to Moscow.” An Italian journalist with good access to the Soviets remarked that “the Soviets would rather have Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as Secretary-General of the UN than a Pole as Pope.” The head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, called the KGB’s Warsaw station chief demanding to know “How could you possibly allow the election of a citizen of a socialist country as Pope?” The Polish ambassador to the USSR was called in for “consultations” in Kiev the day after Wojtyla’s selection; one can only speculate what undiplomatic epithets were exchanged. Surely, some Soviets thought, the United States must be behind this.

How ironic that Poland, the flash point for the outbreak of World War II, the crucible of the Cold War (at Yalta), and the keystone of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe, would be the point of slippage that signaled the beginning of the end. Over 80 percent of the Polish population was Roman Catholic, and the church had long been the one significant focal point of resistance to the Communist regime. “Going to Mass,” Time magazine noted, “became not only a religious act but a quiet sign of rebellion against the state.”